While sports franchises may carry their own particular curses or jinxes on whichever athlete is doomed to grace their cover, that has never been the case with NHL. Regardless, Tampa Bay’s star center Steven Stamkos has been given the chance to top off a career year with yet another honor – his face adorning the cover of NHL 12. EA Sports unveiled Stamkos as the chosen cover athlete at tonight’s NHL Awards show in Las Vegas, also giving a few more looks at gameplay.

To those unfamiliar with the NHL or Stamkos in particular, suffice to say that he has more than earned his spot on the cover of this year’s NHL 12.

After coming out of nowhere last season to tie the Penguins’ Sidney Crosby for most goals scored, the 21 year-old Stamkos followed it up this year by reaching 40 goals faster than anyone, coming in second in overall goals scored with 45, and leading his formerly bottom-dwelling team to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Stamkos was also nominated this year for the Ted Lindsay Award, given to the Most Outstanding Player, as voted on by the players themselves. Did we mention it’s only his third season?

There was certainly no shortage of potential cover athletes to choose from, not least of which Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas, who posted the greatest season of any goaltender in NHL history. It was always a long-shot to see a cage and catcher donning the cover, but hey, Boston fans were no doubt keeping their fingers crossed.

NHL 12 Cover Art

Along with the announcement came the release of a few more screenshots showcasing Stamkos’ signature one-kneed goal celebration. Whether the new player-specific celebrations are something fans can hope to see more of for their personal favorite players or unique to the cover athlete isn’t clear. We’ll bet it’s the latter, but given how many new changes being brought to NHL 12, anything’s possible.

At this point the young sniper’s celebrations and lightning-quick one-timers are already burnt into the memory, but until now we’ve only been able to witness them in live action.

Check out the newest screenshots featuring the most recent recruit to NHL‘s elite club, along with a few of his partners in crime:

After our NHL 12 hands-on preview at E3, our excitement is already raised for the newest hockey title, and this only adds to the anticipation. It’s no coincidence that EA Sports chose a player combining youthful energy with the solid foundation of an NHL veteran to represent their newest release. With NHL 12, the developers have shown that they aren’t interested in growing complacent.

The long-standing mechanics that the game has been built on have been enriched with the new Full Contact Physics Engine and TV-quality presentation package, setting the team up for another chance to add to their 22 Sports Game of the Year Awards. There is still a few more months until the game is released, so, just like Stamkos fans will have to endure a long, hot summer before getting another fix of NHL action.

What do you think of EA’s decision? Do you think Stamkos has earned the privilege of gracing the cover, or would you rather it have gone to someone else?

NHL 12 will be released on September 13 for the Xbox 360 and PS3.

Follow me on Twitter @andrew_dyce.

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